Beware of advancing Chinese: Davenport
WORLD No.1 Lindsay Davenport believes China is the rising force of the women's game after significant investment by central and provincial government is putting the country on the map, as evidenced by the appearance of five women in the main draw of the Australian Open.
Four of them did not survive the second round but the country's No.3 player, Na Li, made it to the third and will face Russia's Wimbledon champion, Maria Sharapova, today for a place in the round of 16.
Peng Shuai was eliminated 6-3 6-1 yesterday by the eighth-seeded American Venus Williams but would have been content with her month, having reached the semi-finals of the Sydney International last week before losing to Alicia Molik.
Davenport had her own struggles yesterday against 24-year-old Czech Michaela Pastikova 2-6 6-2 6-2 before declaring there was a new threat emerging in the form of the Chinese.
"I think that China's come a long way in producing a bunch of players," the world No.1 said. "While there is no-one in the top 10 or top 20 yet, all of a sudden they've got five or six legitimate players in the top at least 100 that are improving rapidly.
"It seems like tennis has kind of caught on in that part of the world. I've heard that because of the Olympics next time around, they've put a lot of money into it and are trying to develop these players. It seems to have really helped.
"Five years ago, I don't remember any player from China. Now we've got, like I said, five or six good ones."
The emergence of the Chinese women is partly as a result of Beijing's successful bid to host the 2008 Olympic Games. More money is being spent on sport in the world's most populous country.
But the men are nowhere in sight, barely registering on the ATP rankings radar.
That is all set to change with the construction of the world's largest tennis facility in Shanghai, which will hold the year-end Tennis Masters Cup for the next three years.
What is now a building site will become by July a tennis centre to rate with the best in the world. The Shanghai government will then be expecting some return on an investment of more $US200million ($263m), and the pay-off could come at the Olympics.
The ATP's director of communications, Iggy Jovanovic, said at Melbourne Park yesterday that the Chinese authorities had approached the men's ruling body for help in establishing the sport, not only at the top but also at grassroots level.
"The people have got a taste for tennis, and the kids are coming out of the woodwork," Jovanovic said.
The ATP has a second tournament there now -- the China Open in Beijing -- and Jovanovic expects the men to start making an impression.